I can’t remember the details of my life.
They go by, a fast car, a blur, a streak of blue or grey, a whiff of hair out the window, something out of the corner of an eye, not so much seen as remembered.
I am writing a book. An outline, my old friend, the big editor in NYC tells me. An outline? How do I outline my life? Do I get a piece of paper and draw a thin line of across it, a faint streak in charcoal or pencil outlining the places my heart has stopped beating for moments in time, tracing the years my eyes closed and opened again? An outline.
Birth. I was born. It was cold. December. Philadelphia. I came two months early. Just before Christmas I entered the world, a purple storm. I have been told that as my mother pushed me in a carriage one day in South Philadelphia, a woman spit on my head. I don’t remember this but I have been told the story so much that I think I remember this. This is the danger of being told stories. You start to think the story is the truth. And it might have been. But really, who knows? Who knows. The woman could have easily not spit on my head or called me ugly, or she could have spit on me. Either way I am not remembering the actual saliva and feeling of hatred dripping down but the rather the words have imprinted on my memory creating their own little room. Replete with a bed and a desk and a typewriter.
My sister was born. We moved to New Jersey. Across the bridge to South Jersey where people were moving. We moved to a street called Drexel Avenue. I remember that. I remember the store across the street from our house had a PacMan machine and a Frogger video game. You could buy things and put them on your tab at this store. I was a little girl, maybe 6 or 7, and I could walk in, play PacMan, get a pound of American cheese thinly sliced, and a hard pack of Kools for my father. I could just tell the man who owned it, Kirk, to put it on our tab. He left egg nog on our doorstep at Christmas. Now do I remember these things because I was there or because I wrote poems about them? Either way, here they are, in the outline on this Etch-A-Sketch of my life.
My dad dies. It’s 1983. Still a faint outline I am working on here, you must rememberr. Maybe it’s in chalk, pencil, something light. We aren’t at his funeral, my sister and I. We were somewhere but since I never wrote a poem about it, I don’t know where. Did we disappear, two little girls slipping into a crack in time long enough for a funeral for a very loved man to be held? Maybe. I do not know where we were. I will have to leave that out of my outline.
See the thing is, when writing a book, you have to have notes to look back on. I took no notes. My notes are in my head and my head is as unreliable as a sock.
Every sock I own has gone missing, leaving it’s partner in a ball with nothing to do but sit and wait. Eventually you get so desperate that you take that lone sock and put it with another lone sock, if it’s lucky. But you can’t count on that. Sometimes that sock sits forever by itself, sulking because it’s by itself and can’t understand what that means.
I am relying on my memories and my imagination. I know we write to remember and maybe I just do not want to remember. Maybe that? Maybe I am lazy. Maybe I forgot. Maybe I thought I would remember.
Don’t we all?
I am not sure the answer but I do know that it’s time to do this, to finally answer that calling that has been with me since I was a kid living in that house on Drexel Avenue in Pennsauken, New Jersey. And yet, here I am at a loss. How do I begin? What do I call upon? How can I do this?
Where does everything go? I yell at the computer.
Everything that happened to me, every person, every book I read, every toothache, every conversation with my dad, every triumph and heartache, every pizza: where is it, where are they? They happened. They existed.
I thought I would remember.
Maybe that’s why I never journaled. But shouldn’t I be able to call upon them in a moment’s notice? Don’t they belong to me? Don’t they work for me? Where have they gone?
Where has my father’s laugh gone: that laugh that creeped up the vents into our room and made us giggle because it sounded like a sheep? Where has that sound gone? Is it floating around somewhere in space where I can go capture it in a bottle and put it by my computer so when I need to describe it I can unscrew the lid and listen. Oh, how I would listen!
Perhaps that is how we keep going. If we remembered every detail we would never hold someone’s hand again, we would never kiss again, or go to the dentist. But does the forgetting mean that we can’t call upon it when needed. Can I sit quietly and remember the details of my life as they happened so I can write them on paper and send them out in the world?
After my father died and we moved to California we were happy. For a while. Then we moved back to New Jersey. Things are a blur here. I was hungry all the time in high school, I remember that, but I can’t remember how the hunger felt as it ate my stomach, that high I had as I felt empty, empty and more empty. I was so empty I remember thinking I wasn’t in the world anywhere but I must have been because here I am, still here. I can’t really remember that emptiness.
So I will have to sit quietly and beg the details to come back. I will bribe them. I will be nice to them and I will pay attention to what they tell me.
The details of my life are intricate and complicated and at the same time easy and wonderful, sad and happy, full of mistakes and fuck ups and moments of Yes.
I spoke to someone on the phone this morning. My friend, Jimmy Knowles, someone gifted in too many ways for one human to be gifted, and he said, for the third time to me: Take notes during all of this. Take notes.
So what’s my problem? Why can’t I? What is my aversion to seeing the details of my life as they happen scrawled in chicken scratch in front of me like a grocery list, milk, bread, you are born, someone loved you, coffee, you became a yoga teacher, rice, you write a book.
I will face the details. I am no longer scared to look at them rather than simply try and remember them. As much as I think it is harder to write them as they happen, the opposite is true. It is much harder to try and remember someone you loved that died too soon rather than looking back at the words you wrote about their smile, their bald spot, their love of waffles.
It’s much harder to try and make it up.
How much we must make up.
How many details to stay alive.